Sydney Con stages its first international jazz festival

Jim Black

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the heartland of the country’s finest jazz musicians and the first tertiary jazz course in Australia, is hosting an inaugural international jazz festival on Sunday 4 June. The one-day festival, also a highlight of the Con’s new music program for Vivid Sydney, will feature more than 100 musicians in 26 events across five venues.

Through unique, international and Australian collaborations, new commissions and masterclasses, Artistic Directors David Theak and Simon Barker have curated a program that sets the Sydney Con International Jazz Festival apart from other Australian jazz festivals.

David Theak, head of the jazz program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music said: “It is with a great feeling of excitement that Simon Barker and I have been able to put together a program that features Australian artists at its core. We have gathered the best of the best from around the country to perform alongside our international guests.

“It will be a rare treat for Sydney audiences to hear Blue Note recording artist Greg Osby alongside prodigious Miami-based Tal Cohen and Perth heavy-weight Jamie Oehlers, Adelaide’s luminary guitarist James Muller with potent British saxophonist Will Vinson followed by a new quintet by Sydney’s profusely creative trumpeter Phil Slater – playing back-to-back across one epic day.”

Headlining the festival on his first visit to Australia is prolific Amenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan. Tigran, who has won a swag of awards including top prizes at the Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals, is shining a light on contemporary piano with his ability to seamlessly blend jazz, folk, progressive rock and classical forms. His soulful approach, owing largely to his Armenian roots and undisputable technical skills, will be on display in a special solo performance of his new release An Ancient Observer which is available now on Nonesuch Records.

The revolutionary American drummer Jim Black, who has a reputation of taking the listener to places rarely travelled, will reunite with the innovative Sydney guitarist Carl Dewhurst after his twelve-year hiatus. Black and Dewhurst performed together at the Sydney Opera House in 2005, when their performance was described by The Sydney Morning Herald as having “boundless imagination”. For this performance, the pair will be joined by celebrated Melbourne artists, bassist Christopher Hale and tenor saxophonist Julien Wilson.

Other highlights include the debut performance of the newly formed Australian National Jazz Orchestra, featuring the James Morrison Scholarship Award winner and Stan Getz Fellow, Mat Jodrell, on trumpet with the legendary New Zealand tenor saxophonist, Roger Manins. The orchestra will perform the world premiere of newly commissioned works by Victorian big band composer, Nick Mulder.

Theak, a tireless advocate for large jazz ensembles and education in Australia, added: “Central to the festival program is not just the performance of the music, but the educational elements. We will draw on an impressive calibre of artists in our masterclass program to unlock the mystery of jazz and help audiences to gain an insight into how the music in constructed.”

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s jazz program is one of the most highly regarded in Australia and overseas. Students work alongside some of Australia’s best-known jazz musicians and composers, and are trained in improvisation, ensemble playing and repertoire development. Classes in jazz music business skills prepare graduates for the non-musical aspects of their career. The program includes three big bands and 11 small ensembles, with many opportunities for performance at the Con and jazz festivals. In 2018, the University will launch a revamped Bachelor of Music to include a new program in Improvised Music – focused on research-based improvisation, including but not limited to the jazz tradition.

Sunday 4 June – music.sydney.edu.au/jazzfest